Labor Day Road Trips Within 100 Miles of Nashville


Labor Day is a celebration of the contributions American workers have made to our country, but for many, Labor Day is simply another three-day weekend that warrants rest and reprieve from hard work. News channels report that Labor Day weekend is one of the most traveled, so if you're looking to skip town for 36 hours but don't want to toil behind the wheel or pay for an expensive flight, staying within a reasonable distance is key. Nashville is within 100 miles of quite a few cool places; however, there's one location that will really give you a bang for your buck and for your time.

Mammoth Cave National Park - Kentucky

Mammoth Cave National Park is a hidden gem with everything from camping to spelunking to boat tours underground. Smack between Nashville and Louisville, the park is right at 93 miles north on I65 and is worth the hour and a half drive. It's even worth the drive if you're not staying for a weekend; I've been just to hike and zipline on a day trip.

This Labor Day is an especially good time to visit Mammoth Cave, KY because the park is celebrating 100 years as a national park, and the caves are celebrating 200 years of tours. Stalagmites and stalactites are most commonly recognized on the tours, but the cool, damp surroundings have their own unique personality as hundreds of years of erosion have formed various structures within each cave. Be sure to pack a light jacket and maybe even a change of clothes; the underground nature of the caves means cool temperatures, some in the 50s even in the dead of summer. Wear shoes with good grip and comfort because the rock surfaces are slick and often wet. Some cave tours, while guided, include blackout conditions (controlled by tour guides) to show guests just how dark and eerie the caves can be without artificial light. Some of the tours even take patrons on walks around dangerously steep rocks and ledges, meaning strollers and other wheeled devices are a no-no for your visit. Never fear, hearing impairment and other disabilities can be accommodated if you contact the park for information. Various tours require special equipment provided by Mammoth Cave (boat tours, spelunking, etc.), but most just need you to be present and aware of your surroundings to avoid accidents or injury. Children are welcome; however, anyone 16 or younger must be accompanied by an adult at all times. The caves are absolutely stunning, but the tours are serious and require attention to detail for safety. Unfortunately, you can't use flash photography in the caves, but I'll be the first to say I think this is a spectacular time to embrace the rule and just experience the natural beauty. A photo won't do justice to the caves anyway, and your safety is far more important than snapchatting the journey.

The most important thing to remember is that Mammoth Cave doesn't require reservations although they are recommended. Plan the trip in advance -- making reservations same day isn't an option. The caves are popular and fill up quickly, and it would be a shame to get the family pumped for the trip only to arrive at a packed house. After caving, pitch tents in the campgrounds and explore the hiking trails. You can also call Mammoth Cave Adventures and set up times to zipline or tower jump. I've done both, and it's terrifying and magnificent all at the same time. If camping doesn't strike your fancy, call the Mammoth Cave Hotel and book a room. Cottages and cabins with nature views are also available, and if you don't want to stay on site, you can book in any local hotel or bed and breakfast just minutes from the park.

A Final Thought

Mammoth Cave National Park is the place the locals see signs for but never really take the time to visit. Most people I know have never been, but the park has so much rich history and adventure, it's hard to justify passing it up while driving up the interstate on longer excursions. Another cool perk is that if you're coming from Nashville, you can plan to stop along the way at places like the National Corvette Museum, Dinosaur World, Western Kentucky University, Lost River Cave, or Beech Bend amusement park. The moral of this story is that Labor Day weekend can be one for the books, but you can keep it close to home and easy on the wallet. Happy caving!

Ashley is an English teacher, cat lover and fitness freak with a love of words and an equal affinity for talking and eating. She enjoys family and friends and truly believes that dancing while eating makes everything taste better -- especially chocolate and coffee.